Goodbye, GOP

Why am I no longer a Republican?

I know, many of you think that’s the wrong question.  The correct question, you say, is “why were you ever a Republican?”

Here’s how it happened.  When I first registered to vote, in 1968, I registered as an independent.  Maybe you missed the 60s, or you’ve forgotten them.  1968 was a time of social and political turmoil that rivals what we’ve seen over the past several months.  Massive demonstrations, civil violence, hotly contested presidential election.  It was a bad time for the country.

I was a student at the University of Maryland, voting in Buffalo by absentee ballot.  I was staunchly anti-war, mildly pro-marijuana, seriously free-thinking (or so I thought – truth is that millions of young people were thinking about the exact same things: sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll.  Oh, and Viet Nam.).  I registered as an independent.

My sister happened to have volunteered to assist in polling in our town outside of Buffalo.  One day, the volunteers were counting absentee ballots, and someone said “here’s one idiot who voted for Dick Gregory.”

My sister replied, “uh, that idiot would be my brother.”

Yes, I had written in Dick Gregory, the Black comedian-turned-political-activist, and ardent anti-war candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.  He was, in my mind, the only candidate who really told it like it was.

Within a few years, I had met and fallen in love with Carolyn.  We were married and moved to Hartford in 1975.  When we arrived, we registered to vote – independent.

After my three years of law school, we bought a house in West Hartford.  We went to town hall to register to vote.  As we were leaving, Carolyn asked “Did you register as an independent?”

“No, I registered Republican.”

Carolyn immediately turned around, went back into town hall, and changed her registration from independent to Democrat!  And so, we remained a politically split couple until last fall, when I no longer could tolerate some of what the Republican party had come to stand for.  With a few quick clicks on my computer, I once again became an independent voter.

Why was I a Republican for decades?  Because Republicans stood for things that I believed, and continue to believe, are at the very foundation of rational democratic governance, things like capitalism, personal freedom, limited government, national defense.  Why are they at the foundation of our governance system?  Because providing for personal freedom was at the core of what the founding fathers were trying to accomplish.

Until the war for American independence, the problem with all governments in the world had been that government was about the governor, not the governed.  In England, for example, the king once had all the power, and democratic reform was about getting the king to give some of that power to the people.   The founding fathers set out to upset the fundamental starting point – that the king had all the power.  Instead, the founding fathers began with the premise that the people had all the power, and the people would decide how much of that power to give to the king.  In the Constitution, they designed a system that allowed voters to choose the people vested with governmental authority; that was intended to provide as little government as necessary to maintain order and personal freedom.

When I went looking for people who shared my political views, people who wanted markets and individuals to be as free as possible, people who wanted government interfering with markets and individuals as little as possible, I found those people primarily in the Republican Party.  Democrats, I found, wanted to expand the government’s power in order to achieve noble objectives and I believe that no matter how noble the purpose, the expansion of government power leads to the loss of freedom.

And so it was that I became a Republican.

The practical reality, however, was that the people who shared my political beliefs were in the minority in the United States.  The people who placed their faith primarily in freedom and capitalism simply weren’t numerous enough to win elections consistently against the Democrats.  Most people wanted government to fix a broad array of problems, and they voted with the Democrats.  The Republicans needed more people on their side to compete in elections.

Enter the haters and the racists.  It was a natural marriage, because the haters and racists found that the rhetoric of the political conservatives allowed their hatred and racism to be masked in politically acceptable terms.  It all began when the haters and racists in the solidly blue American south couldn’t abide a Democratic party that was becoming increasingly sympathetic to Blacks in the 1960s.  The southern haters and racists found their way to the Republican Party, and others have followed for decades.

If you’re a Republican, am I calling you a hater or racist?  I don’t know what you are; only you know.  What I do know is that there are plenty of haters and racists in your party.

Well-meaning Republicans held their noses and accepted the haters and racists for decades because, they told themselves, they shared common political values.  The worst of them, political opportunists, recognized that they could build and solidify their political power by subtly encouraging the haters and the racists.

White America now can see the true cost of hatred and racism.  The haters and the racists are not coming just for the Blacks or the gays.  They’re coming for all of us, Senators and Representatives and Democrats and journalists.  They’re coming for people who care about other people.  They’re driven by hate.  Violence and fear and death are their political tools.   They’ve been killing Black men and raping Black women for 400 years, they’ve terrorized and killed gays for decades, they’ve burned synagogues, and now they’re in open warfare with the best, the greatest country in the world.  And they’re living in and enabled by the Republican party.

It was as though I had discovered that my house was full of asbestos and cockroaches – the paint, the attic, the basement, the floors, the cupboards.  When your house is full of asbestos and cockroaches, there are only two choices:  Stay and remove all trace of the poison and the bugs, or leave.  As a Republican, I faced the same two choices.  Since there’s no practical way to get the haters and racists out of the party, I really had only one choice – leave.

In the aftermath of the insurrection on January 6, 2021, some Republicans seemed finally to understand that they must break with the haters and the racists.  I congratulate them.  Others, like Ted Cruz, twist and turn themselves with all manner of mental gymnastics to pretend to justify their continued alliance with the haters and racists.  They must be recognized as amoral opportunists.

There can be no dialog with those who would destroy our government and their political allies.  The Confederate flag must never again fly on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol, and I cannot be allied with those who celebrate that flag and what it stands for.

We must stand together against the haters and racists in our country.  We are, as our President has said, in a fight for the soul of America.

8 Replies to “Goodbye, GOP”

  1. How does one identify a hater or a racist? I recently said I would like to see a broad adoption of the University of Chicago principle stated below and adopted by 80 colleges and universities including Princeton, Johns Hopkins, Amherst, Columbia, Georgetown, University of Colorado system, Miami University and many more.

    The University’s fundamental commitment is to the principle that debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong headed.

    I was called a racist.

    • This is exactly the kind of mental gymnastics people go through to try to justify their continued support of the Republicans.

      There is a clear difference between free speech and academic freedom, on the one hand, and immorality on the other. Of course, people should be free to think and say what they want. However, when they say and think things that are immoral, it is the obligation of good people, moral people, to walk away. People with a conscience are walking away from the Republican party.

    • Jane:
      I would suggest intolerance of those Republican candidates who accept the support of the haters and racists. If you can’t vote for their opponents, you can support their opponents financially. Unfortunately, money means a lot in American politics.
      I’ve been previously registered as an Independent but didn’t like the inability to vote in primaries. So now I register as either a Democrat or a Republican depending on what is going on in the primaries. Changing your party affiliation is pretty easy to do.
      It’s sad, but I think the Republican Party has sold its soul for the sake of clinging to power. I hope they can find their way back to being the “Party of Lincoln.” The two party system provides a dynamic that over time is beneficial for the country, but like capitalism it needs guardrails.

  2. Well hell, Mark. For a guy who just recently said that you don’t like to discuss politics in your blog because it just gets messy, you’ve acquitted yourself rather nicely.
    Welcome to the world of public political discussion. I hope you have had all of your vaccinations and boosters; it can get a little hairy here.

  3. Mark, you’ve captured the GOP dilemma quite nicely. In a two-party system, both parties have to cope with extremists. But as Trump supercharged the ugly right, the Republicans’ problem got way tougher. Now, shedding the nuts risks primary losses and a lack of engagement by the Trumpers, whose votes are badly needed. Splitting the party is a non-starter; they’d never win another national election. That’s why the Lincoln Project and others tried to nip Trumpism in the bud. But too many good Republicans went along for too long. Now they’re in a real bind.

  4. We need an end to the two party system. The problem is that most people are reasonable and in the middle. The fringe in both parties get the most press and have their talking points repeated because it makes the best news. This further creates a political divide because people on both sides feel disenfranchised.

    CT should allow for open primaries so that the majority of independents can have a voice. We should be voting based on ideas and thoughtfulness and not along party lines. We should provide equal funding to our legislators and candidates, equal talk time during debates etc. No outside money, just clear and clean idea exchange to foster real conversations and have real communication. Furthermore, I think term limits are a must. It is time that we have fresh blood come in and out of our state and not an entrenched way of doing business that is not working.

    Some additional ways we could get better transparency without our systems is to require super PAC’s to come under FOI rules and register spending with ethics. There is money on both sides of the aisle that distorts issues. Our ethics rules allow lobbyists to donate to candidates as long as the lobbyist in not acting in a lobbying capacity. This is a questionable practice at best.

    You can see that CT has major issues with over $80 million spent in lobbying our state agencies and legislators in 2019 and another $80 million or so spent in 2020. What could the citizens of CT do with that money if it was not being spent by outside groups to lobby our state and rather we had access to that money to make our state better?

  5. Thanks, Mark, for this thoughtful piece. I left Glastonbury in 1968 for Georgetown University and didn’t come back until 1985. My (Republican) mother has always said that she sent me to Washington as a Republican and a Roman Catholic and I returned as a Democrat and an Episcopalian.
    The two for me are not unrelated. (For anyone reading this who does note know me, I am both an attorney and an Episcopal priest). For people of faith in any of the Abrahamic religions, at least, the fundamental question of citizenship is “In a democratic republic such as the United States, what is your role as a citizen to bring the values you profess in your religion into reality in the public sphere?” Let me be clear that to me, that NEVER means accomplishing that by diminishing the rights of others — a favorite tactic of the Christian right.
    I lament, to some extent, the days of the 60s when you had a broader spectrum of beliefs in both parties — I voted for John Anderson in 1980 because he was fiscally conservative and socially progressive — that brand of Republican is now a dinosaur.
    Thanks for taking on this topic!

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